The Department for International Development is going to be scrapped from September this year and will be merged with the Foreign Office, with current Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab set to run it.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained that the move would save money as ‘the UK possesses the third biggest aid budget and diplomatic network in the world. We owe it to our people to make best use of these assets’. He continued that ‘for too long frankly UK overseas aid has been treated as some giant cashpoint in the sky that arrives without any reference to UK interests or to the values the UK wishes to express or the priorities diplomatic political or commercial of the Government of the UK. The British taxpayer has a right to expect that we will achieve the maximum value for every pound that we spend’.
The foreign aid budget has been the target of much criticism over the years, especially given the controversial causes it has assisted. This includes the use of money towards causes like the £5.2 million used to fund Yegna, the self-described ‘Ethiopian Spice Girls’, and £152K to trapeze and acrobat acts in Tanzania, just to name a few. Meanwhile, there has been ire expressed at the use of the money developed countries like China and South Africa. The issue was brought to a head a few years ago, as it was revealed that civil servants were spending the money as much as possible to meet deadlines, and polls showed that the British people wanted the aid budget heavily reduced.
There has been strong criticism for this move, mainly from former Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, the latter of whom made the 0.7% foreign aid target law back in 2015. Blair called it a ‘wrong and regressive move’ which undermined his original aim when setting it up in 1997 to ‘play a strong, important in projecting British soft power’. Brown stated that it was ‘sad’, and Cameron argued on Twitter that it was a ‘mistake’. Labour leader Keir Starmer was also critical, arguing it ‘diminishes Britain’s place in the world’, and that it was ‘pure distraction’ from the coronavirus death toll. Several Tory MPs, including Shailesh Vara and Michael Fabricant, along with the Taxpayers’ Alliance political director James Roberts and IEA London representative Richard Wellings, backed the government’s decision.
Tony Blair: “I am utterly dismayed by the decision to abolish DFID. We created DFID in 1997 to play a strong, important role in projecting British soft power. It has done so to general global acclaim. (1/3)
— Tony Blair Institute (@InstituteGC) June 16, 2020
The Prime Minister is right to maintain the commitment to 0.7 – it saves lives, promotes a safer world and builds British influence. But the decision to merge the departments is a mistake. 1/2
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) June 16, 2020